The First Global Hand-washing Day: Egyptian School Children Take The Lead To Improve Hygiene Practices
By Eva Dadrian
15 Oct 2008: SOHAG Governorate– Al Jihad Al Guedida School
Captured in a very simple logo - a blue drop of water, an orange bar of soap and a green hand – the message of the Global Hand-washing campaign is appealing to Marina, a 10 year old primary school pupil, who together with thousands of primary school children in the governorate of Sohag, Upper Egypt, has lined up at her school hand-washing facilities to wash her hands with soap and water.
On October 15 and at 11 o’clock precisely, in unison with 120 millions of their peers in more than 70 countries across the world, the Egyptian school children were marking the first-ever Global Hand-washing Day. As part of the celebrations depicting 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation, the hand washing worldwide campaign is to raise awareness of the benefits of hand-washing with soap and thus keeping away the dangers of many diseases and infections.
The hand washing day initiative was launched as part of the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education Project (SSHE), that is supported by UNICEF, the provincial authorities, the Egyptian Ministry of Education, USAID and the Water Authority. The SSHE project engages the teachers, the parents associations and the children of some 159 primary schools, and communities in three districts of Sohag governorate, namely Dar El Salam, Geheina and Sakolta
At Al Jihad Al Guedida Primary school in the village of Medinat Geheina, there has been a flurry of activity for the past four weeks. Helped by their teachers as well as their parents, young boys and girls have worked very hard to make the Global Hand-washing Day a real celebration. The walls of the school are covered with posters and drawings made by the children Teamwork has paid well and the children are reciting poems, verses and songs around the benefits of washing hands with soap and especially prepared for the occasion. Later, to a large gathering of fellow pupils, parents, teachers and local officials, a group of young boys went on stage to perform a 5-minute play they had written with the help of their teachers about the importance of personal hygiene and the environment.
In Upper Egypt, children have become real agents of changes. By talking to their parents about simple behavioral changes such as washing hands with soap before and after eating or after using the toilets, these school children are spreading around awareness for a hygienically healthier life. Inspired by their children, parents’ behaviour is also changing. They pay more attention to the personal hygiene of their children and provide them healthier food, like Amal Ibrahim Tewfick, mother of two children, who admits to have learned so much from her daughters “When they come home from school, they tell me about all these new ideas they have learned from their teachers and I am very happy because I am learning too. Now they have their individual towels, they drink a glass of milk in the morning and have plenty of fruits in their lunch box. They look healthier and happier. And I don’t have to take them to the doctor as often as I used to” and she confesses laughingly “I rather buy more bars of soap, it costs less.”
Other mothers have also joined in. “Since my daughter came home and told me about these safe hygiene practices, I am more aware that dirty hands can be the cause of many diseases, so I wash my hands with water and soap before preparing the meals, or when I come home from milking the cows” says Fatheya Ahmed, a mother of three children.
So today, not only children, but parents as well are more aware that the simple act of washing hands with soap helps protect them from diarrhoeal diseases, some eye infections and even death. In the long battle to save children’s life and teach them to lead a hygienically healthy life, the durability of the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education Project (SSHE) is vital and therefore should continue to motivate Marina and millions of children around the world to be as determined, persuasive, creative and energetic as they are today.
Education, says Hayam Abdel Radi Ahmed, Monitoring Officer, Sohag Education Directorate Office, must be engaging, motivational and at the same time interactive. Children do not attend school only to get a degree, she says, but to become responsible and active members within their community and the best way to achieve this is by motivating them to participate in their own welfare and that of their families. “When these children practise in their homes the basic principles of personal hygiene that they have learned at school, they are spreading the message around and sooner or later, the other members of their family will do the same”
In rural Egypt, where traditionally children are seen and not heard, the campaign has given not only a voice to young people, but also means to become partners in building an environment whereby they will be able to exercise fully their human rights and be responsible citizens.